Wednesday, September 8, 2010

More Studies. Sorry, I Find This Interesting

I read the most interesting article in the magazine New Scientist about the addictive quality (for some people) of what the article terms "junkie" food, i.e. food high in sugars, salt and fats. It's a long article, but worth reading in its entirety.

A number of studies have found interesting clues to ways some individuals respond to food in a manner very similar to drug addiction where the reward circuitry of the brain is highjacked. Also, certain foods (see above) are more "addictive".

I know a lot of folks scoff at studies like these, and claim that by publishing results like this, the scientists end up (somehow) letting people off the hook of personal responsibility.  I don't see it that way - a person who wants to deny their own complicity in engaging in addictive behavior doesn't need a study to do it.  I find that learning about these correlations make it easier for me to understand some of my own past behavior. It helps to hear that there is some evidence for those of us who feel we have a food addiction, that we probably do. What it means then, is if we want to change our behavior,  we can't just go on a diet and hope that our willpower is enough; the problem has to be addressed in a way that also works with the addictive quality of our eating habits and the kinds of food we eat.  I fully believe that at the beginning of my weight loss, I made a very clear cut decision to save my own life.  I guess that sounds dramatic, maybe I should phrase it, "decision to choose health above remaining mired in unhealthy overeating".

Monday, September 6, 2010


I'm a participant in the National Weight Control Registry, which is a large, long-term study of people who have lost a significant amount of weight and maintained the loss for over a year. I'm going into my third year of participating; basically it consists of answering questionnaires each year. From time to time, I get letters from them that briefly describe some of the research findings that come out of the studies they conduct, using the responses to the questionnaires.

This year, one of the studies looked at "Psychological Characteristics of Successful Weight Losers". I'll just quote from the long paragraph in the letter, and apologies in advance for the wall of text, but I find all of this interesting.

"Some obesity researchers have argued that long-term maintenance of weight loss requires such extreme effort that few people are able to accomplish it, and that those rare individuals who do maintain their weight losses do so at tremendous psychological cost. We examined registry members' scores on a number of psychological questionnaires, and compared their scores to the scores of groups known to be experiencing high levels of emotional distress (patients with eating disorders, psychiatric patients) and to scores of groups with relatively low levels of distress (community samples, patients enrolled in university-based weight loss programs). These comparisons show very clearly that, for our group of "successful losers", long-term maintenance of weight loss is not typically accompanied by the high levels of distress observed in certain populations, e.g., eating disordered patients. On average, the scores of registry members on measures of depressive symptoms, general distress, and susceptibility to losing control of eating resemble the low scores seen in community samples and obesity patients, and are much lower (indicating lower levels of distress) than the scores observed in eating disordered and psychiatric patients. Thus, weight loss and maintenance do not appear to have created a "psychological hardship" for our participants."

Speaking from my own experience, if anything, my mental health has drastically improved as a result of the weight loss effort, if only because that process caused me to question so many of my own hurtful self-concepts as well as force me to change the unhealthy eating behaviors that brought me to being so overweight. Also, the more time has passed in maintenance, the fewer instances where I really feel the urge to pig out, which isn't to say I don't enjoy a big treat meal with full dessert from time to time.